Thursday, October 1, 2020

A charming father/daughter comedy


    Sophia Coppola brings a light but knowing touch to On the Rocks, a comedy that teams Bill Murray and Rashida Jones and is bound to evoke memories of Murray's terrific turn in 2003's Lost in Translation, another movie in which he teamed with Coppola. 
    But this is a different Murray, at once more familiar but also cracking open new terrain as a father who believes that he must  help his daughter (Jones) determine whether her husband is cheating.
     Murray's performance is so engaging, it's easy to forget that Jones keeps pace. She portrays Laura, a Manhattan novelist who's juggling motherhood (two young children) and a stalled attempt at writing a new mystery. She also suspects that her husband (Marlon Wayans) is having an affair. 
     It's not difficult to understand why Laura has become  suspicious. Frustrated and harried, she's pretty much on her own. Wayans' Dean constantly travels for work, some sort of tech business that seems to be booming. 
     And what's that woman's cosmetic bag doing in Dean's  suitcase anyway?
    Coppola captures a level of Manhattan living in which no one spends much time worrying about money and in which busy lives are the norm. The movie's surfaces are warm and inviting, but On the Rocks boasts just enough depth to kick superficiality to the curb. 
     The story opens with Murray's Felix speaking to his then young daughter. "Remember, don't give your heart to any boys. You're mine until you're married. Then you're still mine."
     This kind of statement could have opened a door to psychological waters in which another movie might have drowned. 
      But as the story unfolds, we learn that Felix views his daughter as a companion and playmate. And despite frequent expressions of exasperation, Laura enjoys meeting her father's expectations. 
     Murray makes it easy to see just how persuasive Felix can be as a man of relaxed charm and good humor. He's rich, well-traveled, appealing and obviously smart enough to have made a small fortune in the art business, wealth that entitles him to move about the city in a chauffeur-driven limousine. 
     He also owns a classic sports car, the centerpiece of a very funny scene. Watching Felix talk a New York cop out of giving him a speeding ticket makes for a richly humorous pleasure. 
      When it comes to male and female behavior, though , Felix remains happily "unwoke." As an experienced philanderer, he  knows enough about men to be confident in his judgment.
      Although he fudges a bit here and there, we suspect he's certain that Dean is cheating. Of course, the male behavior Felix knows best is his own.
     The movie's plot finds Felix suggesting a variety of measures to track Dean's movements. 
      By the time Felix and Laura follow Dean to a Mexico, traces of sitcom thinking have begun to peek through. Still, the Mexican setting allows Murray to sing a surprisingly sweet version of Mexicali Rose.     
        From the start, it's clear that Coppola plans to travel first class, putting us into luxe Manhattan settings, swank restaurants, and upper-crust parties. She's selling a New York fantasy that's difficult to resist. 
    And in these COVID times, not only does resistance seem pointless, it would be downright foolish.  Obviously, Coppola had no idea that her movie would hit during a pandemic. But On the Rocks qualifies as a smart piece of escapism and a perfect antidote to the desperation of the moment. Enjoy.

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